Maybe you’ve never considered it before. Maybe you’ve thought of it, but ended up asking a friend to come with. Maybe you’re already going and you just want some reassurance. Whatever your reasons are for being here, I’m here to encourage you to go for it. If you’ve never traveled solo before, it can seem like an intimidating idea. No one is waiting for you on the other end, you might not know the language, and you’ll be stepping out of your comfort zone. But even with all the fears or doubts you might have about the experience, here are 16 reasons travelling alone is just so great.
1) Do whatever the hell you want.
When you’re travelling in a group, you follow the itinerary of whoever’s in charge. You wake up at 8, eat breakfast at 8:30, arrive at the museum by 9:30, get to the basilica by 11, eat lunch, walk up the tower, see the fountain, go to another basilica, then another museum, eat dinner, hit the bar, turn in for round two tomorrow. But what if museums bore you? Or maybe you’ve seen enough fountains.
The best case for solo travel is to be able to do whatever the hell you want. You have complete control over your itinerary and can set your own schedule. You can visit every single museum in the city or go on a food and wine tour off in the country. Or both. Who’s to stop you besides your wallet?
2) Plan as little (or as much) as you want.
When you’re planning with or for a group, you have to plan. Otherwise, you spend thirty minutes at a hotel just looking for a place to eat, and then another hour for a place to visit that everyone can agree on. Even with plans, people who should have no say because they didn’t contribute in any way to creating the schedule suddenly have an opinion on what the group should do instead.
Travelling alone? Plan as little or as much as you want. Want to wing it? No one cares. Want to meticulously plan your schedule? Have fun! You have no one to answer to but yourself, and there’s no one to challenge your decisions. It’s relaxing to know you can grab a map and go, and that no one’s going to mess with your plans.
3) Go at your own pace.
How many times have you ever gone to a museum and waited for people to finish looking at everything? Or are you usually the person everyone’s waiting on? When you’re a solo traveler, you don’t have to wait for anyone or worry about holding the group back.
Want to stroll around the city with a cup of spritz? Go for it. Want to cover everything in a day? You’re free to try. Want to sleep in? While it might seem like a waste of money, sometimes you just need a day to recuperate. And if you’re travelling by yourself, there’s no one around to make you feel guilty.
4) More time for yourself.
There are a lot of awkward voids between destinations. You have to wait for the plane, wait for the bus, wait for the subway, wait for the train, and then you have to wait in them. Usually, you’re travelling in a group and don’t notice all the waiting. For me, it was weird to have to find ways to occupy myself without chatting away or playing cards with friends. Now, part of traveling is enjoying the downtimes by reading, learning, and relaxing.
Buy a workbook or download Duolingo to learn that language you’ve always wanted to know. Memorize the first 100 digits of pi. Practice your tsumego. Learn how to play go. Learn how to program using Java. If you already know Java, start coding your first Android app.
Alternatively, you can spend the time with some entertainment. You can now download shows from Netflix and eBooks from Amazon. Catch up on those episodes you missed out, or read that book you bought a year ago and haven’t touched since. Have a DS game you miss playing? Bring it for those long bus rides. Whatever it is, you can do it uninterrupted.
5) Reflection and introspection.
Another thing you can do with your time is to reflect on… whatever. You can organize your thoughts and photos to have a physical record of what you did the day before, or ask yourself where you want to be in the next year. Or five. It’s easy nowadays to fill every free minute we find with social networks and games; traveling alone gives you some quiet time away from everyone you know.
You can also see who you are when you’re not around the judgments or opinions of others. You find out what you actually care about and what you just go along with. You discover how you react to different situations and what you’re like when you’re out of your element. And then you pat yourself on the back for everything you handled well and promise yourself to do better for anything that… could’ve gone better. Trust me, it’s fun.
6) Eat whatever the hell you want.
It can be hard to do this in a group. Some days, you want to immerse yourself in the culture and eat like a local. Other days, you get homesick and just want a burger. But you can’t force everyone to want what you’re craving.
In some places, there are entire restaurants or areas dedicated to one thing, like a street in Beijing that sells bugs as snacks. As soon as one person isn’t interested, it’s hard to get the group to decide on another spot. Solution? Go by yourself and eat whatever the hell you want.
7) Interact with locals.
When you’re in a group, you tend to stick with that group. If someone knows the language, you never have to say a word to anyone outside of your circle. That’s not a bad thing: you’re making memories with your friends and family to last a lifetime. But when you’re alone, you get to interact with the locals. I had to order and pay for food in Beijing, even if I was just pointing at pictures and looking at how many fingers they were holding up. In Montréal, I had to use my rusty French to ask a question about the price of a cute pen. Even if you’re just using hand gestures or buying toothpaste, you are engaging with the surrounding community.
It also seems to make you more approachable. A lady in Arles came up to ask if I needed directions and to show me where a Van Gogh had been destroyed by bombs. A guy in Raleigh shared his plans to go backpacking with his cousin. With your friends, you guys are a tourist group. By yourself, you’re a person visiting a country. Okay yeah, you’re still a tourist, but it’s easier to act like a guest in their city.
8) Interact with other travelers.
This is one of my favorite reasons. It’s easier to merge one person into a group than it is to merge two groups. I’ve had many meals with random people, learned about the education system in France, shared jokes with Australians about Trump running in the election (This was early 2016. We didn’t think he’d win), found a German wearing my basketball team’s hoodie, listened to the amazing stories of an old woman from Virginia who was working her way through Europe after tracking gorillas (or apes, I forget) in Africa, and learned that flights within Europe can be ridiculously cheap. Conversations like this take time that groups generally don’t have, and I’m glad I was able to meet everyone I’ve met. Not only do I have memories to look back on, but I also have inspiration for future travels.
Sometimes, you wish you could have a little more time. Maybe you lost track of time at the museum, or got lost for a couple hours. Maybe you just found out about a new Studio Ghibli exhibition. Maybe you just want one more chance to see the Northern Lights. Or maybe, you just really need a break from your break.
Other times, you realize that you’re kind of done. Perhaps the city wasn’t as big as you’d expected, or you’re just super excited for your next stop. Whatever your reason, you’ll be glad the decision is quick and easy to make.
10) Pick up travel tips.
While meeting other travelers, you slowly learn the travel hacks they’ve picked up, like the cheapest way to travel in Europe or how to pack light. Every time you put clothes into your packing cubes or squeeze the last bit of shampoo out from your silicone travel bottles, you’ll be glad you took the time to talk to and get advice from other travelers instead of staying in your circle. Plus, you can share what you’ve learned with your friends and be the designated expert for the next group trip.
11) Gain independence.
Obviously. You’ll be doing everything yourself. including booking tickets, navigating streets, and solving unforeseen problems. If you can navigate the streets, negotiate with street vendors, use the public transport, and otherwise make it in a country where you don’t speak the language, you can take charge and figure things out back home.
You’re responsible for yourself, and your decisions are yours alone. If you don’t plan out your trip and it ends up sucking, you learn valuable lessons to be more self-reliant for next time. After the first (few) mistakes, you quickly learn to anticipate and prevent potential problems, even if you spend way less time preparing.
12) Learn to keep your head.
It’s not the end of the world when you miss the last train. Getting lost isn’t as a big a deal as you’d expect. Sure, maybe at first you’ll sweat a bit and panic. But with practice, you learn how to calmly work out a solution. Your training translates pretty well into “the real world.” When things don’t go as planned, you have practice forcing yourself to take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and stay calm to work it out. Plus, in a group, one irritated person quickly affects the group’s mentality. When you’re alone, you just have to focus on the task at hand.
13) Learn how to love.
People say cats teach you how to love. I would argue that traveling does the same. You learn that there are so many ways to show and accept gratitude, affection, and kindness. In some cultures, friendships come quickly while in others, they require more patience. And just because you don’t understand an action doesn’t mean it is thoughtless. You learn to love people in spite of differences and to accept love from people in unexpected ways. Again, it’s not like you can’t learn this while traveling in a group. But in a group, it’s much easier to stay in your bubble and enjoy the people directly around you.
14) Learn to let go.
You meet so many new people and your first instinct is to friend them on errythang. While you’re free to keep in touch, it can be an overwhelming task. You learn to let go of the people and hold on to the moments. It’s weird at first when you had such a great time with amazing people, but you have to keep moving on to the next adventure instead of comparing them. The first time I had paella and cava with Cloé, sweating in a sauna and jumping naked into Swedish snow with Australians, watching a video of a bunkmate trekking through rice paddies in Arles, sharing a Middle Eastern meal with a German couple, trekking up a mountain with Chinese group in Lin Zhou, going to a world robotics convention in Seoul; these are all memories I’ll remember for years, even if I don’t stay in touch with the people.
15) Speak your mind.
You are now free from going with the flow just to make everyone’s lives easier. If your new friends from the hostel want to go surfing and you’d rather go hiking, let them know. And then go hiking! You guys can always meet back for dinner. It’s unreasonable and unsocial to be this rigid once you’re back home, so savor the freedom while it lasts.
16) See what your friends think of you.
When you float the idea, are they supportive or disapproving? Being concerned is one thing, secretly thinking that you’re inept or thinking you won’t be able to figure out how to survive is another. Hopefully, all your friends are great, but not everyone so is fortunate.
Once you realize you don’t need anyone, you recognize the people you want in your life. And as you grow older, you’ll slowly spend less time with some people and more time with others. Traveling alone helps you distinguish who might belong in which category.
You realize you don’t need anyone and there is nothing standing in your way. I really can’t recommend it enough. One warning: you may start looking forward to your solo trips more than ones with your friends. The thought of everyone moving as a unit now stresses me out more than it should. What do you think? Are you ready to try it? Is there anything I left out? How have your experiences been? Let me know in the comments below.